Five years after Officer Daniel Pantaleo killed an unarmed black man by administering the chokehold until Eric Garner could no longer breathe, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill fired him “effective immediately.”
On July 17, 2014, Garner was arrested for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. Video footage shows that when Garner did not provide identification, Pantaleo eventually put Garner in a chokehold which lead to Garner’s death, his last words being “I can’t breathe.”
At the NYPD trial, Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado found that Pantaleo “consciously disregarded the substantial and unjustifiable risks of a maneuver explicitly prohibited by the department.” Maldonado also noted that “recklessness caused multi-layered internal bruising and hemorrhaging that impaired Mr. Garner’s physical condition and caused substantial pain and was a significant factor in triggering an asthma attack.”
She then recommended that Pantaleo be dismissed from the NYPD. After five years, massive protests, and the death of Garner’s daughter, the Justice Department announced it would not file federal charges against Pantaleo on July 16. Then, on August 2, when Pantaleo’s NYPD trial concluded, Maldonado said: “Given this training, a New York City police officer could reasonably be expected to be aware of the potentially lethal effects connected with the use of a prohibited chokehold, and be vigilant in eschewing its use.”
And today, Monday, August 19, Commissioner O’Neill fired Pantaleo. He noted that it was not an easy decision.
“I can tell you that had I been in Officer Pantaleo’s situation, I may have made similar mistakes. And had I made those mistakes, I would have wished I had used the arrival of back-up officers to give the situation more time to make the arrest. And I would have wished that I had released my grip before it became a chokehold,” O’Neill said.
“Every time I watched the video, I say to myself, as probably all of you do, to Mr. Garner: ‘Don’t do it. Comply.’ To Officer Pantaleo: ‘Don’t do it’; I said that about the decisions made by both Officer Pantaleo and Mr. Garner.”
“But, a man with a family lost his life – and that is an irreversible tragedy. And a hardworking police officer with a family, a man who took this job to do good – to make a difference in his home community – has now lost his chosen career. And that is a different kind of tragedy,” he continued. “In this case, the unintended consequence of Mr. Garner’s death must have a consequence of its own.”
But O’Neill’s decision was not without backlash from the Police Benevolent Association (PBA).
“It is absolutely essential that the world know that the New York City Police Department is rudderless and frozen,” PBA President Pat Lynch said. “The leadership has abandoned ship and left our police officers on the street.”
“Police Commissioner O’Neill has made his choice: he has chosen politics and his own self-interest over the police officers he claims to lead,” Lynch said in a statement. “He has chosen to cringe in fear of the anti-police extremists, rather than standing up for New Yorkers who want a functioning police department, with cops who are empowered to protect them and their families.”
At a press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “Don’t believe anything Pat Lynch says.
“Today in our city we ended a chapter that has brought our people so much pain and so much fear over these last five years. The pain was because we all watched a human being die before our eyes on a video, watched a man who should be still alive today,” de Blasio said. “And it was so difficult for all of us to reconcile what we saw with what we must believe about law enforcement. Our officers are here to protect us, to keep us safe and yet we watched a man die, an unarmed man and it caused so many people to ask, what if that was my brother right there in that situation, what if that was my son, what if that was my father, what if that was me?”
NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer also weighed in on the “long overdue decision.” He said, “We cannot allow another family to be denied justice for years, for no good reason. Now I urge the Commissioner to finish the job and terminate all the officers who stood by and watched as Eric Garner gasped for breath.”
“As a City, we have to use this moment to look in the mirror and examine how we ensure police accountability and fairness under the law. No public servant can be above public scrutiny,” he continued. “Though today’s decision is welcome, we still have to address the systemic racism and prejudice that undermines our criminal justice system. We need to seize this moment to ensure equal justice for all New Yorkers.”
Perhaps one of the more powerful statements came from Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
“But the work needed to prevent these tragic incidents, to bring real accountability and transparency which will continue the push toward true community-police relationships in this city and around the country, is only beginning,” he said. “Supporting our men and women in blue and demanding accountability are not mutually exclusive, and we must reject the voices of those who try to make us choose.”
“We must move forward together. We must move forward together. We must move forward together. We must move forward together. We must move forward together. We must move forward together. We must move forward together. We must move forward together. We must move forward together. We must move forward together.
We must move forward together.”